An Uncomplicated Life Blog: February 2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why We Choose Organic Foods

Why organic foods make a difference in our diet, and why it's important to start at a young age

This post is sponsored by Earth's Best Organic®. All opinions are my own. Breast milk is the first choice for infant’s growth and development but if and when you choose formula, you can feel good knowing there is an organic choice – Earth’s Best Organic®

It's not a surprise. I've talked about it several times before, and all my recipes feature it: we eat organic food in this house! It wasn't always this way. Believe it or not, I used to eye roll pretty hard at the word "organic." I thought it was just a dumb term for charging twice as much for food. This was my attitude throughout my mid and late 20's mind you, when I was eating almost entirely processed foods. Microwavable meals? Brought those to work daily. Both breakfasts and lunches. I was a solid 10 pounds heavier than I am now, slept like crap, ate junk and despite being active and running regular half and full marathons, I didn't even look healthy. How did I go from that to who I am today? It's a fun story actually, and details why we choose organic foods.

I've changed my tune about organic foods and we even have an organic veggie garden the kids help me with now!

At 25 years old, circa 2010, my sister and I moved into a condo together in Minneapolis. She was already on board with the organic movement. I, on the other hand, thought she was a fool for spending so much money on food. I preferred to spend my money on going out, whether it be for drinks or lunches or dinners. I bought the cheapest food possible to keep in our condo, while she bought into farm shares, had unpasteurized milk delivered to, and home cooked the bulk of her meals. "What a fool!" I thought. "She could be out having fun but spends her money on that garbage. Ha!" One morning, after a late night out destroying my liver, I really wanted a glass of juice. I went to the fridge and low and behold, my sister had some cranberry juice. Yes! I poured a large glass and started to desperately chug it, like you do when you're hungover, only to run to the sink and spit it out - it was unsweetened organic cranberry juice! "What is this junk?! Ugh, organic stuff is AWFUL!" I thought.

Funny I had that opinion because while I was eating horribly, I was portraying myself as a health nut. I regularly ran road races. 10 mile and half marathons were my favorite, but every few months I ran anything from a 5 mile to a full marathon race. I was active at a local gym, taking regular group fitness classes (I still miss that gym! It was a social scene, too.) I discovered my love for yoga and began a regular practice. Yet, my diet was still a processed hot mess.

2013 yoga teacher training: when I finally got woke to the organic lifestyle! Arrow points to yours truly

Fast forward a few years to the spring of 2013. I was recently engaged and had just moved to Dallas with my then fiance (now husband). We knew nobody. In fact, my first time to the city was when I was driving into town, following my parents who were pulling a trailer with all my belongings on it. I moved before I had a job here, so I decided to do yoga teacher training. Maybe I'd start working as a yoga teacher, maybe I'd go back into marketing. Either way, I'd deepen my knowledge of yoga and meet people, so it was a win in my book!

One of the elements of the program was to keep a food journal. Not to count calories, but rather to mark down what you eat and note how it made you feel. A way of making yourself notice how food effects your body and your mood. I was completely annoyed by this aspect of the program. What a pain in the rump to actually have to write down the junk I was eating and tell my teachers how it made me feel! But it did the trick... I noticed. I also noticed how the other folks in the program ate, how they looked and felt and how their yoga practice was effected by it. After a month of the program, I decided to give organic food a try!

After a week or so, there was no turning back. I felt better than ever. The processed foods I used to buy quickly started to taste too salty and fake. I started to cook more regularly since I had a fiance at home with me. I introduced him to quinoa, and organic veggies. Initially, he pushed back at me, asking where the meat in the meal was. Soon, he too noticed how much better he felt. Today he even asks me, "Can you make something healthy with a lot of vegetables in it? I ate like garbage on my last business trip!"

Baby Henry, our formula fed baby. His rolls and tongue give me life!

These healthy habits are being passed on to our kids, too. They've all only eaten organic food. I actually don't' keep any conventional brands in my home. If we're at a birthday party or on a play date, I won't stop my kids from eating them, but I don't keep them in the home. That includes baby items! Henry was formula fed as a baby, so organic formula was a no brainer.

Think there isn't a difference in organic vs non-organic formulas? Wrong! There's no GMO's, there's no artificial growth hormones* fed to the cows that produced the dairy for the formula, and the ting that I like best is that Earth's Best Organic® Dairy Formula has no added corn syrup solids! That's a huge difference between conventional formula. Furthermore, it's made without prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, synthetic hormones, additives and antibiotics. While the FDA has strict regulations on all infant formula to meet standard nutritional guidelines, organic formula can limit your baby’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and pesticides. That's HUGE!

Head to Walmart

Go to the baby aisle 

Boom! Earth's Best Organic® formula
Take it home and feed those babies!

One of the biggest misconceptions I had about organic food is that it's ridiculously expensive. That's changed big time as more and more retailers carry organic options. In fact, Walmart even has it now! And they carry Earth's Best Organic® formula in the baby aisle, too,  priced right in line with the conventional brands. Want a coupon to try it? Click here for a ShopKick offer for a discount!

I get that some people are skeptical of organic food, because I was one of those people once too. I thought my money could be better spent elsewhere. I thought this until I was forced to take note of how the processed food I was consuming was making me feel, and woke up to other BETTER options. Then I woke my husband up to them. Then we decided to feed our family with them. When you know better, you do better, and for us that means eating an organic diet - from infancy in baby formula on through adulthood. 

*No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non rbST-treated foods

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Twin Mom Hacks

Being a twin mom is tough, hard work! Use these hacks to make life with two babies easier (good for non twin moms, too!)

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and NicePak, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #NicenCleanatHEB

Mommin' aint easy, as the saying goes. And those of us who were blessed with two? Oh, don't we know it! Twins somehow aren't just twice the work, they're exponentially more work than just having a single baby. There's never enough hands, and always someone who needs you. There's messes (I'm talking diaper blow out level messes!) times two. While I've only been at this twin mom thing for four months, I've been at this mommin' thing for nearly five years. It was most certainly helpful being an "experienced mom" for the birth of my twins, and enabled me to develop some helpful hacks fairly quickly after the birth of my twins. Don't have twins? Don't worry, many of these hacks still apply to you! This, my friends, is my short list of twin mom hacks.

1) Stock up on supplies
This one seems like a no brainer, but was one of the hardest things for me to grasp as a mom of twins after having two singletons: you're gonna need a lot of baby supplies. More than you think you'll need! That box of diapers? You'll use it in a blink of an eye. Those baby wipes? Might get used in as little as a few days! What you don't have with twins is a lot of spare time and you certainly don't have spare hands, so STOCK UP on supplies during your outings! Take whatever you think you're going to use and double it. If you've got storage space, triple it. Trust me. You'll use it.

We're huge fans of stocking up on Nice 'n CLEAN baby wipes at H-E-B. They're sold in three different package sizes (so mom's of singleton babies, they're great for you too!) and have a scented and non-scented/sensitive skin option. Worried about what's in your wipe? You should be, but not with these. They're made from 100% plant based fibers using 99% natural ingredients. That means NO alcohol, dyes, parabens, phthalates, or chlorine. They're also hypoallergenic so they're perfect for faces, hands and of course, those dirty bums! Which as a twin mom, you're going to get to know really well...

2) Invest in the basics
Yes, twins are expensive. What you have to get one of for a single baby, you've got to fork over twice the cash for two. The good news is you don't have to buy two of everything! In fact, most things you can get away with just one of. What you DO need two of is the basics:

- bassinets (even if you're not room sharing, it's nice to have a set of bassinets when the babies are little so they can nap near you. Also, they won't be on the same schedule at first, so you can have one napping in the nursery and have one awake in the bassinet before they're able to sit up!)
- car seats (go with the LIGHTEST seat you can find; there are many "stylish" options but they weigh a ton. You're not going to look cute with a stylish car seat when you can't even lift one baby in one, much less two!)
- double stroller (yup, you'll use it)

Things like bouncers, swings, play mats, infant seats and all the other nonsense they try to get you to buy for babies you won't need to get two of. I had one swing from my two older children, and went out and bought another one thinking we'd for sure use it. But we rarely ever have two children in the swings at once, so that was a waste! It's more a distraction for one baby while I'm changing or nursing the other. Same for bouncers and infant seats. And the play mat? They lay and play on it together, so two of those are definitely not needed! Get good quality of the things you do need two of, because you'll use those all the time. The other stuff is just extra, and you don't need multiples of.

3) Don't sweat the small stuff
It's going to happen. There will be a time, probably more than once a day, when both babies are crying for you and you just don't have enough hands to meet their needs simultaneously. One (or both) babies will be crying and it will be stressful. It's ok! You're still doing a good job, mama. That baby isn't judging you for not immediately meeting his or her need, so you shouldn't judge yourself, either.

If there's one thing I've learned after having four kids it's that children - no matter how young - read your energy. If you're stressed out and panicking, they get stressed out and panic. Then the whole situation compounds itself! If you can stay calm and focus on getting the task at hand done, not only does it go faster, but everyone stays calmer and things don't escalate. If you need to take a minute to compose yourself, step out of the room, take a breather, then get back at it. Don't sweat the small stuff! Proceed with calm energy. Your children will follow your lead, so lead well. I regularly get asked how I manage having four kids age four and under, and it's all about calm energy - and not sweating the small stuff! Twins both blow out of their diapers at once? Ok, I'll change one quickly and then the other, like I'm on an assembly line. Toddler take crayon to the carpet while I'm nursing a baby? Ok, finish nursing first, deal with toddler second. Separate the tasks in your mind and check them off one by one. That's how I manage to stay cool and calm under pressure.

Hacks for moms of multiples to make life easier
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Having any number of infants is challenging, but if you're having/have twins, get ready, because it's next level. As a mom of four kids all very close in age, these are the hacks I've created to make my life with so many youngsters more manageable. And while geared toward moms of multiples, these twin mom hacks apply to moms of singletons too!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scones

Traditional Irish St. Patrick's Day fare includes a breakfast with scones. Make these to celebrate the holiday, or any time of year for a fresh baked treat!

Y'all know I love me a good holiday! Any excuse to decorate my home, or make special foods is a fun time, in my book. We're not Irish, and since we have so many young children, we don't do the American-ized version of celebrating St. Patty's Day anymore (although I had some doozy St. Patrick's Days back in my 20's that are a bit hazy to remember!) Instead, it's fun to make themed food in the spirit of the Irish holiday. I did a little research this year to see how the Irish actually celebrate this holiday, and what kinds of foods they actually eat. Turns out, corned beef and cabbage is largely an American tradition; soda breads and scones are in fact more authentically Irish. I needed no further excuse to make up a recipe in the spirit of St. Patrick's Day. Low an behold, my creative flavorful take on an Irish breakfast staple: The Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scone.

Now, while corned beef and cabbage isn't traditional, that doesn't mean it isn't DELICIOUS. If you're looking for a recipe for that for a well rounded St. Patrick's Day, look no further than this recipe I created a few years ago. I converted my non-cabbage loving husband! This one is seriously honestly one of my tastiest recipes, and will make the perfect dinner compliment to this lemon pumpkin seed scone you're about to enjoy for breakfast. Bake these scones the night before, throw the corned beef in the oven the morning of, and you're all set to have a few morning libations and still feed your family some delicious food as you "celebrate the luck of the Irish." 

Scones are a cross between a muffin and a biscuit, and take less than 30 minutes to make from scratch, including baking time!

Homemade take 5 minutes to mix together and just 25 minutes to bake!
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This flavor profile is a tad unexpected. It's true, I was looking for yellow and green elements to make this recipe, and low and behold I came across a really excellent combination! The key here is to use FRESH lemon zest and FRESH lemon juice. If you don't have a zester, just use a fine cheese grater. If you don't have a juicer, use your hands to squeeze the juice out of the lemon while catching seeds with the other hand (squeeze with one hand, let the juice run through your fingers and catch seeds with the other). Store bought juice will lead to disappointment in this recipe! 

Lemon Pumpkin Seed Scones
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 a teaspoon if using unsalted pumpkin seeds)
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted

Lemon glaze
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

In a small skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds over low heat until you can start to smell them, shaking or stirring them regularly so they don't burn. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the lemon zest, milk and butter and loosely incorporate. Just like pancakes and biscuits, you don't want to over mix this dough! Add the pumpkin seeds and dump the mixture onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Form dough into a circle, being careful not to over-pack it (and therefore making a dense scone). Cut the circular loaf into six pieces, and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.

How under-mixed your dough should be
Lightly formed into a circle. Don't over-pack the dough or it will become a brick! Then slice into 6 pieces

While the scones are baking, mix together the lemon glaze. You don't want it too runny, so start with just a tablespoon of lemon juice and add slowly from there! Wait for the scones to cool completely, then drizzle over the cooled scones. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea (or an Irish coffee if you're in the St. Patrick's Day spirit!)

I'd eat these lemon pumpkin seed scones the same day, max two days, and leave them out on the counter. Covering them or putting them in Tupperware will turn them soggy. You can freeze them after baking. Allow to defrost on the counter. To crispen up the edges again, put in the oven for 5 minutes at 275 degrees. They'll be good as new!

Monday, February 4, 2019

What Happened When I Stopped Caring About Social Media

As a blogger, I'm supposed to care about my engagement and stats on social media. I stopped all that, took the pressure off of myself, and this is what happened.

I hope we're friends on Instagram, and I hope you check out my stories. A few weeks ago, I had an "honesty chat" where I shared I completely stopped working the Instagram Game. You know, liking a bajillion photos a day, commenting on dang near everyone's pics, going through the hashtags I planned to use the next day and liking/commenting there... Basically, wasting my life away in that app just to "build community" aka get engagement on my account. On Facebook, I stopped sharing others content (finding good content to share was getting so hard to find!), and only made a few posts myself per week. Twitter? Yup, I only scheduled out a single tweet per day. Basically, I decided to reclaim my own life and get off social media so that I could really live it and be present with it. So what happened to all my accounts? The accounts that get me paid, that I've spent years building up? What happened to my page views on my blog? What happened to my mental health? This is what happened when I stopped caring about social media, and started caring more about living my present life.

My actual blogging work space... In the playroom because we have too many kids in all our bedrooms for me to have an office!

First, a bit more on why I stopped caring about social media. It's a funny thing. I've been on Facebook since it started as a way to share your party pics in college. You had to have a college email address to sign up and you could only "friend" people in your network - people at the same college or university that you went to. That was Facebook in 2004. By the time I graduated in 2006, my sorority was having workshops on social media, and why it's not a good idea to have "party pics" of you out there when you're trying to get a job. Nice foresight Kappa Kappa Gamma! I didn't post party photos of myself (I graduated in 3 years with nearly a 4.0 GPA; I was too busy studying and working to party much. Saved that for graduate school!) but I did enjoy checking out others' debauchery. 

Facebook opened up to everyone sometime in 2007 or 2008 and that's when the first big change happened. Now everyone could see you and you had to be respectable! Family members joined. Businesses joined. Groups were formed. It became a "thing." I remember I saw my first Social Media Manager job posted sometime in 2010 and laughed. "That's a REAL job?! What a joke!" I thought.

Yup, definitely a thing. That same year I helped write a social media policy for my employer. Two years later, social media marketing tasks were added to my job. By 2014, I started a blog and social media marketing WAS my job. It was easier back then. There weren't algorithms, and if people liked your page, they saw your content. You didn't even have the option to pay for ads, it wasn't a thing yet. Instagram wasn't popular yet. Heck, my account was still in my private name! There was very little strategy outside of post your content consistently and respond to messages and comments.

Fast forward to 2017 and people were making six figures just from an Instagram account. You had to have at least 10k followers for brands to want to work with you. There were expensive guides sold on how to build up these big accounts and the word "influencer" became a thing. A real job, that made real money, just by posting photos on the internet. Nobody was laughing at a job titled Social Media Manager anymore because they were too busy trying to figure out how to become influencers, where the real money was!

Towards the end of 2017, I told a small group of bloggers I'm close with that this whole Instagram thing was no longer sustainable. People were buying followers, faking likes and doing various "tricks" to make their accounts look popular so that brands would pay them big bucks to post photos that never actually reached their target market. Blogging went from creating fun content for your site to being all about your social media channels - the blog was just the after thought that people clicked through to if they had the time. Everyone was trying to figure out how to game the system, trick the algorithms and gain more followers and more likes, no matter who those followers were or where those likes came from. 

For me, it took the fun out of blogging and using social media.

It was a constant internal battle I had with myself: Do I do the same things others are doing in order to stay competitive and relevant? I hated that I had to spend so much time in Instagram, just to build or maintain my account! Just to try to garner every follower who might be remotely interested in me (or, more accurately, interested in a follow back from me) or who might give me a like on a photo, or a Facebook like on a link to my blog. 

It had gotten bananas. Bloggers were hiring out help for their Instagram accounts alone. Most of the likes they were getting were from "like all threads" or "chore threads" and while they weren't fake, they weren't genuine either. Don't even get me started on giveaways... A way to buy followers without actually saying you're buying them. Ughhh. It was all just a huge game on false popularity. Fortunately, PR agencies and brands noticed (finally!) and wrote into contracts that hired influencers couldn't implement these practices or they'd be fired from the project. I thought that would help right the ship, as it were, but it didn't.

Sometime after seeing my 90th giveaway in my feed during the holiday season of 2018, I said ENOUGH. I'm so sick of  liking liking liking, engaging, commenting, always being present, responding to just about every DM, always having fresh Instagram Stories up, always having a queue of tweets going out, scrolling Facebook nonstop for great content to share, liking and commenting, liking and commenting... Just to remain relevant and seen in each platform's algorithms. ENOUGH. 

So I stopped. 

I stopped all "games" and simply posted content when I wanted to, and only liked a few photos a day from my feed. Only liked a few Facebook posts on others' pages and didn't share any content. And that lack of activity on my account showed. Immediately.

My Facebook impressions plummeted. At first, my Instagram engagement was cut in half. Then in half again, and again, until I was getting 50-150 likes on a photo when I had been 500-1,000+. It was a kick to the gut. I'd love to tell you that I didn't care, but I did. It was Christmas time, so I had plenty to do besides care about social media stats, but I was worried. Worried how it would effect my ability to get paid projects. Worried what that engagement rate looked like to others. Worried how my blog would fare and worried about future paychecks that might no longer come. 

After a week, I was ready to throw in the towel and jump back into spending all my time on social media again, just to save my account (and, honestly, to save face and boost my ego again too.) But I stuck with it. I said, no Paige! Just commit to taking the holiday season off and see what happens. Maybe things will bounce back! Maybe brands will still want to work with you. Just give it time and see. I resolved to get through December 2018 and January 2019, then reevaluate to see where things stood. I had a lot going on to keep me busy with newborn twins and two toddlers, so it was easy to follow through with my lack of social media plan!

Here's how it all panned out: Emotionally, I was SO MUCH HAPPIER. I got SO many hours to my week back! I could actually spend time writing (which is why I started blogging to begin with) and improving my photography skills. I started blogging to BLOG, not to spend time promoting my brand on social media. So that was a refreshing reboot for my brain. In my experience, when you're refreshed, you write better content. I started to have all these blog post ideas that I was actually excited to write (and would be excited to read, if I were a follower). It was a huge boost for my morale and creativity - I have such a great list of posts to write this year!

Why using comment pods and engagement threads harm your blog and social media channels if you want to be a paid blogger

Monetarily speaking, my December was completely middle of the road. Not a great month, not a bad month. However. I wasn't hired for any "social media only" work. It was all blog posts! That correlation is interesting; get better at what you love doing anyway and people hire you for it. January was more telling, since the effects of abandoning my social media had time to set in. Hold on to your hats... It was my BEST MONTH EVER. Five years of blogging, and once I started not caring about social media likes/engagement and just had fun with creating my content, and I landed two HUGE contracts for social media only work. Multi-month, multi-figure contracts. One of which is with my "dream brand" because I actually buy and use it regularly and it's in my perfect organic niche.

I remember it was January 16 and I was sitting on my couch in awe of what was happening (I secured the contracts within hours of each other). I pulled up my Instagram and had a measly 53 likes on my last photo, yet had secured this work from brands WHO REACHED OUT TO ME, and whom I was able to negotiate MORE pay with. I did not honestly expect to share with you that my pay increased. I merely hoped I'd be able to share that it didn't negatively impact it! Now, was this just a fluke month? One super successful month that will be followed by a desert of no interest? Maybe! It's hard to say when you're self employed and work month to month building an income from scratch every time. But if it's a fluke, it's pretty bizarrely timed.

Moral of the story: don't let likes stress you out. Don't let a high number of likes make your day. I wish there was a way to completely hide like counts and comments on social media posts in fact! Giving up the ghost on caring about that trivial stuff is not only freeing, if you're in social media for a living like I am, it's not detrimental to your business. It resulted in more fun, creative content on my end, and brands noticed. I'm guessing brands also noticed that my engagement was entirely genuine, and reaching 75 people who actually read and interacted with my content was far better than 670 who liked it because I liked several of their photos and were just doing it to reciprocate, not because they're actually invested in me, my account or what I have to say. As it would turn out, when you stop "caring" about social media, good things happen AND you become a happier, less stressed out person!